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Teen horror tale has promising premise, half-baked plot.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Dan's interest in history and psychiatry drives his research into the asylum's past. Intensely vivid descriptions and photographs bring home the full horror of what used to happen to unfortunate patients.

Positive messages

Friendship and family loyalty are important -- and tightly connect the teens to sinister forces.

Positive role models

Dan and his friends are brave and believably flawed as they attempt to make sense of ominous portents and worse events.


Many scenes practically guaranteed to give the sensitive reader nightmares: a young man gets electroshock therapy to "cure" his homosexuality; a spirited 10-year-old girl is lobotomized; and other vignettes show what passed for mental health treatment in the olden days. Central to the plot, both past and present, is a serial killer renowned for arranging his victims in gruesome, lifelike poses -- who may or may not be connected to the murders that befall unsuspecting characters.



Some kissing.


Frequent use of "s--,t" "ass," and variations thereof.


Dan spends a lot of time Googling. Much mention of mass-market products, mostly for atmosphere and character definition, e.g. Diet Coke, Little Debbies. Also references to media icons from Oprah to The Hunger Games and The X-Files.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One of the teen characters drinks a lot as part of a downward spiral.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Asylum is a horror novel in which archaic, violent psychiatric treatments of the mid-20th century come to terrifying life in story, illustrations, and old photographs from mental institutions. Also, someone is committing visually grotesque murders just like those of a serial killer once confined at the institution that now serves as a dorm. There's a tender budding romance between two characters, and a gay teen is traumatized by his parents' rejection. There's also a lot of profanity, mostly "s--t," "ass," and variations. In keeping with the horror genre, characters are quite heedless of Keep Out signs and other things that would serve as warnings to the wise.

What's the story?

Geeky 16-year-old Dan Crawford is thrilled to be attending an elite college prep summer program in New Hampshire, where he hopes to make some real friends and soon connects with Abby and Jordan. Things start to get weird fast when the teens are housed in an old building that used to be an ASYLUM for the insane -- with which each of them turns out to have some connection. Before long they are exploring forbidden portions of the building and discovering the horrors of the past; meanwhile, strange happenings on campus lead to killings that bear the signature of a serial killer who was once a patient there.

Is it any good?


As an exposé of ghastly conditions for anyone with the misfortune to land in the "mental health" facilities of decades past, Asylum is dramatically effective. Personal tales are revealed in both the text and illustrations -- chiefly old photographs from such institutions that suggest torture far more than medical treatment. But as a story, the novel is less successful, though some of its many disconnects and unexplained events may be resolved in the planned sequel. Things happen and revelations occur at a relentless pace, often with little internal logic other than a barrage of scariness; the cartoonishness of the characters and the horror genre (author Roux turns to teen fiction from two previous zombie novels) sits uneasily with the vivid, real horrors inflicted on real people that are central to the plot.

Families can talk about...

  • Why do you think horror novels are so popular? Is it fun to be scared?

  • What do you know about psychiatric treatment today, especially for kids and teens? Do you know any families who sent their kid away to a treatment facility? How did it turn out?

  • Dan has a lot of baggage from years in the foster-care system. Do you know any foster kids? What issues are they dealing with? How did they end up in the system?

Book details

Author:Madeleine Roux
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, High school, History, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:August 20, 2013
Number of pages:320
Publisher's recommended age(s):14 - 17
Available on:Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Adult Written byvictorianmermaid August 6, 2015

Creepy, but great, read

I have a interest in creepy things like this. It is violent at times and can be scary to younger readers. The details added about asylums interested me greatly. Younger readers, read with caution.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Teen, 14 years old Written byMetalgearpenguin January 17, 2016
- Mild to moderate language -Horrifying experiments to people, a lobotomy on a girl of ten -Some murders Otherwise it is a great book
Teen, 13 years old Written byk15 July 18, 2016

Good book, plot not 100% complete, some objectionable content

This was a good book and a relatively easy read (it probably took me about 3 hours or less). Like the review says, the plot is kind of half-baked -- there are a lot of things that, by the end of the book, are still not resolved, but maybe they will be in the sequel, Sanctum. Besides that, the story was pretty good and generally kept me interested. However, some people my age or younger my not be able to handle the creepiness and violence in the book. Two secondary characters in the book are killed, there are two violent attacks, and many threats. There is also some mentions of drinking, but nothing crazy happens as an effect. Some parents may not really mind, but for those who do, one of the main characters, Jordan, is gay. Although it isn't a big part of the plot, it's mentioned several times (a girl his age is not "his type" because he is gay, he's actually supposed to be at a "pray-the-gay-away camp but he managed to get into the one he's currently at instead, his parents would be very angry if they were to find out he wasn't at the camp they wanted him to be, he complains about having to go back and pretend to be straight for another year, the tortuous treatment of gayness at mental facilities in the past is mentioned, and during art class, drawing nudes was mentioned (And naked guys. Maybe Jordan will come with me!"). Also, there is a crush and a date, but nothing serious. Overall, whether kids should read this books depends on what their parents are OK with, whether they'll get scared, and what their maturity levels are.
What other families should know
Too much swearing


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